The Use of Smartphones for Health Research

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Because of their growing popularity and functionality, smartphones are increasingly valuable potential tools for health and medical research. Using ResearchKit, Apple’s open-source platform to build applications (“apps”) for smartphone research, collaborators have developed apps for researching asthma, breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and Parkinson disease. These research apps enhance widespread participation by removing geographical barriers to participation, provide novel ways to motivate healthy behaviors, facilitate high-frequency assessments, and enable more objective data collection. Although the studies have great potential, they also have notable limitations. These include selection bias, identity uncertainty, design limitations, retention, and privacy. As smartphone technology becomes increasingly available, researchers must recognize these factors to ensure that medical research is conducted appropriately. Despite these limitations, the future of smartphones in health research is bright. Their convenience grants unprecedented geographic freedom to researchers and participants alike and transforms the way clinical research can be conducted.

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